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Why Spirit Week is a Problem

spirit week

Teaching kids to have pride in the schools they attend is a pervasive custom, manifesting in the form of mascots, school colors, and swag. As part of creating a strong sense of school culture, Spirit Week is a much-beloved institution, one that educators plan as a way to get kids excited about cheering on the accomplishments of their classmates and themselves. On the face of it, the idea seems sound enough. Why not have a “Twin Day” or a “Wacky Tacky Day” to let everyone have a little bit of fun? In reality, however, too many students wind up feeling left out in the cold by an initiative that is supposed to nurture a sense of belonging, but instead winds up increasing feelings of isolation or exclusion. 

Not Every Kid Has Friends

It might be painful to admit this truth, but not every child has friends. There could be any number of reasons for that, from significant challenges with socialization to just not finding anyone to “click” with. I know from personal experience that I struggled with finding people who both understood me and accepted me the way I was throughout middle school, so I spent most of my time alone avoiding a clique culture of bullying. Having said that, students who don’t experience social ostracism may also not have friends to hang out with in between classes or during lunch. Throughout my teaching career, I saw many kids who created safe spaces for themselves in empty classrooms or in the library outside of class time, usually because they had nobody to be with. Being left out on days where everyone is collaborating on a spirit theme only serves to exacerbate feelings of loneliness. 

Not Every Kid Has a Costume

It is nothing short of amazing how frequently we forget that so many children have very little. Going out and buying costumes to align with spirit themes isn’t possible for many families, and even when schools are sensitive to that issue and try to create a theme that everyone can access, they might miss the mark. Suppose a seemingly innocuous theme like “Pajama Day” is on tap for the end of the week so that everyone can close out Friday in glorious comfort. Again, the idea itself sounds nice—doesn’t everyone have pajamas? Until we dig a little deeper, that is. Not all children have clean pajamas to wear to school, or any pajamas at all. Some kids sleep in old clothes, or in threadbare pajamas that are worn or do not fit well. The last thing an already struggling student needs is the pressure of feeling like they can’t participate in a day that is meant to be enjoyable.

Not Every Kid Feels Belonging

Once again, in a perfect world, every kid feels like they are part of the larger community. They have pride in their school, feel happy when they walk through the halls, and the building itself represents a safe space. But here comes the reality check: for many kids, that is simply not a true state of affairs. For one reason or another, they dread coming to school. Even worse, in many cases, nobody notices how miserable they are, or they don’t care enough to explore the root of the problem. Schools are not one-size-fits-all experiences, but responsible adults in the building should do everything in their power to make everyone as comfortable as possible. 


To reimagine the intention behind Spirit Week while making it work for everyone, what are some alternatives that allow kids to express their school pride? Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Pick Spirit Week themes that can be achieved within school walls, like “Paper Crown Day” where everyone makes a paper crown in first period, decorates it, and wears it for the remainder of the school day. 
  2. Have a “Community Day” that gives kids options for engaging in some type of community service, like packing items for a food bank or creating audio recordings of text for individuals with visual challenges. Use this opportunity to show students just how much giving their energy to help to others makes their school a great place to be!
  3. Set up a “School Shout Out” box (similar to a suggestion box) where kids can drop in their reasons they love going to school. Word to the wise: vet these before sharing them, but find a way to post what kids share for everyone.
  4. Have an Activity Day (or half-day) set up in which kids can select activities that are either collaborative or individual. For example, there might be a spot in the library reserved for a board game contest or even a reading corner, while the athletic fields can be used for supervised outdoor play.
  5. Have a schoolwide art and writing show to display student work that showcases the school in some way. Students can visit the displays either during class or in downtime.

While the celebrations above take time and energy (and resources), so do many traditional activities that occur during Spirit Week and are less inclusive a large number of students, like pep rallies and talent contests.

It would be great to think that something as fun and lighthearted as Spirit Week works for every child, or even most of them. After all, we can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, so why take aim at this seemingly harmless custom? Educators might not have taken the Hippocratic Oath to first do no harm, but the responsibility exists nonetheless. Any practice that makes a group of students feel more like outsiders, that impresses their friendless state even more forcibly upon them, or that makes their socioeconomic struggles more readily apparent is not okay to continue. We must find other ways to celebrate our schools and the wonderful work students do through activities that are inclusive and structured within a framework that everyone can appreciate in their own beautiful ways. 

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS